The beautiful people may bay for Byron Bay. The celebrities may lord it up on Lord Howe Island. But in these challenging times, ordinary folk in the know head for the nurture of Norfolk Island. Despite its somewhat unglamorous reputation, this unpretentious territory of Australia that's not quite Australia and where passports are preferred, is proving a true paradise in the pandemic. For three nights on Norfolk, we're booked into King Tide House, a contemporary two-bedroom private home with an unrivalled location.
This comfortable house at Anson Bay is perched on a spectacular clifftop between a deep blue sea and a verdantly vegetated, seabird-besieged hillside, festooned with endemic Norfolk Pines. While it's the least populous side of this compact subtropical idyll - uniformly the colour of an over-dyed billiard table cloth - nothing is far from anything.
The spacious King Tide House, owned by a local Norfolk Islander who is residing with his family in Vanuatu for a few years, is fronted by an imposing expanse of a lush lawn extending all the way to the cliffside (mind your step) and the neighbouring forest.
There's an oversized deck with seating - perfect for bird watching and sun-baking - as well as a balcony of sorts on the forest side. Indoors, the tub in the bathroom, which comes with his and hers hand basins, is strategically positioned to soak up the dazzling views. For longer stays, and on a rather less romantic note, there's a separate laundry with a washing machine and dryer.
King Tide House is equipped with a full kitchen and a barbecue for cooking your own meals (stock up on supplies at the supermarket in town). There are plenty of good, though not necessarily groundbreaking, restaurants and cafes scattered across the island.
For breakfast everyone heads to The Olive at Burnt Pine, the main commercial centre. For lunch and dinner try nearby Hilli Restaurant & Cafe set amid sub-tropical gardens next door to the fascinating Fletcher Christian's Mutiny Cyclorama.
Closer to home, literally, is a goat farm where cheese is handmade. A pre-booked visit includes a guided tour of the property, insights into how the cheese is crafted, and an excellent lunch with a view of the Pacific and King Tide House itself on the opposite headland.
Where to begin? Not only is Norfolk Island an ecological wonderland it also boasts a powerful human history. The haunting convict penal ruins at Kingston and Arthur's Vale, dating to 1788, are UNESCO World Heritage-listed while the island's population contains many proud descendents of the Mutiny on the Bounty. Their ancestors were transferred here, with permission from Queen Victoria, in the 19th century from an unforgiving Pitcairn Island. They don't view Australia as the mainland but as a separate country and their campaign for self-government continues.
Don't miss the national park which includes the Captain Cook Monument and scenic lookout. Here the rocky karsts emerge from the crashing sea below, and it's around this spot where Cook and his officers landed in 1774. Not far from King Tide House is the new Sunset Bar, set in the front yard of an enterprising local couple and overlooking the Norfolk Pine-fringed ocean.
Wondrous and revelatory. The underrated Norfolk Island is the nearest equivalent of an overseas holiday during these pandemic times (you must pass through the zombified international airport to get there). There are various accommodation options on the island, few if any particularly ritzy, with King Tide House a fine option for those seeking privacy with a hint of luxury in what is an unsurpassed jaw-dropping, nature-filled setting.
A stay at King Tide House starts from $420 a night including a "meet and greet" on arrival and transfer to the property, rental car for the duration of your stay, an optional half-day island orientation tour and an on-island "travel concierge" for any required assistance. A local mobile is also provided for use while on the island. For bookings contact email@example.com
Flying time is 2 hours 50 minutes and since your reviewer visited (flying Air New Zealand), Qantas has announced that it will run flights from Sydney and Brisbane for at least three months. Visitors to the island must complete a special entry pass between 24 to 72 hours before arrival. See kingtidehouse.com; norfolkisland.com.au; airnewzealand.com.au
The constant presence of swirling birdlife, particularly remarkable are the white terns which migrate to Norfolk Island all the way from the northern hemisphere to escape its winter, providing a thrilling spectacle.
Avifauna again. The resident shearwaters, or mutton birds, in the adjacent forest emit an eerie, hear-it-to-believe it, childlike cry by night. Light sleepers should pack ear plugs though, really, it's all part of the island's rich natural showcase.
Anthony Dennis visited as a guest of Norfolk Island Tourism, Air New Zealand and King Tide House.